Monday, June 8, 2015

Racing in Heat- The Balancing Act of Fluids, Electrolytes and Calories. Beating race day woes.

"I can't run in heat." 

"Every time I run in heat I puke."

"I race better in cold weather."

Summer is upon us. This past weekend runners got their first taste of heat and humidity,unfortunately for some, this was also a weekend that held several large races.

With proper planning and education:

We CAN run in heat.

We CAN run without puking.

There IS a reason why we vomit. There IS a reason we get dizzy and weak. Running in heat and humidity is a challenge for several reasons:
  • We go into race day with a game plan regarding pace. In hot weather we must race for the conditions, NOT for a goal we came up with in ideal conditions. RUN SLOWER, FINISH STRONGER.
  • We must stay hydrated and take in electrolytes. If you feel dizzy or weak, it is because you are most likely deficient in fluids, electrolytes and/or calories. 
  • All races are NOT created equal. Races longer than 8 hours in length are exponentially harder in relation to electrolyte and fluid management. The body will REVOLT if you don't have a great game plan to address all the variables related to strategy on race day regarding heat management and all the variables related to strong race day performance.
  • You must take in enough calories while running in heat. Your stomach will fight you if you are overheated. If your electrolytes and fluids are balanced your stomach will accept fuel better.
Why do we vomit in heat? There are several possible reasons, the most likely culprit is electrolyte imbalance. Hyponatremia in usually to blame. Hyponatremia is a low salt concentration in the blood. Your body is always trying to create homeostasis,the fluid in your body needs to be a certain concentration of salt to fluid. When you run low on salt, your body will begin to purge itself of fluids to reach the concentration it needs to function. You will urinate very frequently and possibly vomit. Peeing frequently might lead you to believe you are hydrated, but you are actually becoming low on fluids AND salt at this point. Not only are you now low on electrolytes but you are now dehydrated AND losing blood volume which your cardiovascular system needs to function.

Running at an intensity too hard for the conditions can also create havoc. If you aren't trained for the heat you are racing in, and you are pushing the pace too hard, your body is too overwhelmed to digest food. If you are overheating and running your body doesn't want to be overloaded with the demands necessary to digest food so it purges anything in your stomach it to focus on cooling down and getting blood to working muscle groups.

Ultramarathons are chess, not checkers!

Ultramarathons are full color in 3D, not one dimensional black and white.

A break down of the needs of a runner in heat:
  1. Calories must be easily digestible. You need several hundred per hour for ultra events.
  2. Fluids and electrolytes must be balanced and replenished. You must know what your specific body needs. Going off of recommendations on bottles is misleading because those instructions are most likely not for ultra distance. A 26 mile marathon runner does not need as many electrolytes per hour as a hundred mile runner in heat. 
  3. Pacing must be adjusted to account for climate.
  4. Staying cool externally with wise clothing options and tricks.
The condition in which a runner shows up to a start line is also a large factor in their ability to perform in heat. A runner who is overly ambitious in their training plan will often falter and succumb to heat intolerance. A lot of runners who are striving to progress in the sport would benefit from added recovery before a race but we must let of anxiety and allow ourselves to recover. It's anxiety that fuels overtraining. We must have faith in our bodies and our training.

There are many variables to consider for running in heat. I highly recommend if possible to train in the hottest part of the day. Don't rely on your innate talents to get you though an event. Work harder AND smarter and reach your maximum potential.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Planning For Peak Running Success. There is no "Set Formula".

Often times we look back with limited sight on a successful race we had in the past and think "I've got it! A formula for success! THIS is what I need to do to have great races from now on! I'll train exactly how I trained for my last race and I'll always run like I did when I PR'd!"

Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Trust me, I WISH it was...

I've been studying my mileage data for the past few years pretty thoroughly gearing up for Western States 100 on June 27. It's always tricky balancing a training schedule to build for a true "peak". What I see are some drastically different months of training over the past year. There are several months in which I average low mileage back to back. Some months are as low as 50-60 miles per week...then on the flip side, there are months in which I average 100 miles per week.

I gauge success over long periods of one fairs in the long haul. 

Looking back at my past year I couldn't be happier. In 2014 I ran some low mileage months in January through March to leave some gas in the tank for my main goals in the summer. I was pretty spent from high mileage over the fall and needed to step back. As mentioned, I also wanted to save some energy for the summer. A big focus of my year was the Hawthorn Half Day Run in June. (In 2013 I broke the previous Hawthorn CR running 78 miles in 12 hours but I was beat out in a near photo finish...I knew I could improve upon that. Training in May held a lot of 100 mile weeks and the week before the race I even got in a 19 hour week with nearly 120 trail miles. I played my cards right and ran 81.5 miles at Hawthorn and set a new course record as was the goal.)

I recovered well after Hawthorn and then got in some more high volume weeks over 100mpw before the Burning River 100 which was the first of August. I had a strong run at Burning River and was lucky enough to come away with a run in which I won, but most importantly, a run in which I ran at my potential and felt strong.

The months following Burning River held more strong races and more tightwalking the fine line of recovery, training, and racing. By the time I got to Tunnel Hill 100, I was wasted. I ran a "decent" race at TH100 in November. I ran too many in the weeks leading up to Tunnel though. Any 100 mile run is truly something to be grateful for and something to be proud of but I ran below my potential due to fatigue. I finished in 16 hours and could've finished in the 14's. It's wasn't a bad run, it just wasn't great, and definitely wasn't what I'm capable of.  (...placement has little bearing on your success at a race. You never know who will show up...only YOU or your coach know if you've run your true potential and at Tunnel Hill I did NOT.)  

It was time to back off.

I cut mileage down to 50 mile weeks again and ran very little in between TH100 and Lookout Mountain 50 in December. Recovery proved to be effective as I felt really good at Lookout, which is a technical, tough, mountain 50.

In winter and early spring I stayed with my low mileage plan and raced stronger than ever before my yearly rest period in April.

We don't need to get wrapped up in mileage and concerns of "Are we doing enough?" We can run at near our potential year round if we cycle our training periods and volume along with intensity. Cycling periods of several months of recovery and maintenance mileage along with periods where we focus on high volume is the way to stay strong and fit year round. We can try to be proactive and plan these periods but we never know exactly when we will need to switch models. 

This is why it is so important to keep great records of our data and continually evaluate our moods and attitudes towards training. If we find we're falling short of our potential then maybe we need to back off and cut our mileage for a while.If we haven't been putting in a lot of effort in our runs lately because "life" has gotten in the way, perhaps the key to success is letting go of the things in life that are distracting us from training. We might just need a few high mileage, high volume months to build our engines to capacity. 

Set Goals and look at past successes and failures. Leave a small margin of error and work patiently towards a track record of success, making small incremental adjustments to build a race resume you can be proud of. Find what inspires you and work to reach those goals. You can do whatever you want to do, you just have to be willing listen to your body.

There is no set  "formula" for success. As much as all of this is a science, it takes an analysts and artists mind to interpret the endless variables and move forward with a game plan for peak adaptations to training and recovering from the load we've placed on ourselves.

As for me, I'm back to high volume. I typically race strong in June after recovering in April and I look forward to Western States 100! I'm feeling pretty good right about now although I'd like to have more miles under my belt. Only a few weeks ago I felt like I was way behind the curve but as usual I'm always shocked how quick form and endurance comes back. It's gonna be a fun day in California.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile- 3 Days at Syllamo Stage Race- Back to Back Race Weekend Report

Dr Studly Brooks, Hot Stuff Hoyes, Myself, Wonderboy Breeden
I was pretty thrilled when I found out that the Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile Trail Run would actually take place on the road this year. The incredible amount of snow and rain had made the course impossible to conduct a race on and the number of runners participating in the race would have destroyed the trails. Last year the course was in rough shape with ankle deep mud for miles upon miles. The prospect of repeating last years experience left me less than thrilled, but with the course now on a beautiful stretch of road/running paths in the woods at LBL I was happily anticipating my 9th LBL race in as many years.

A road 50 miler meant less wear and tear on the body. I had a race the following weekend and I needed to recover as quickly as possible. I was also excited at the chance for a new 50 mile PR. The road course at LBL was TOUGH though and it rained the whole day. The normal 50 mile route on trails is not technical and it holds about 4000' of climbing. The actual distance of the trail route on my Garmin usually comes out to about 48 miles. The road route was a longer distance of 52 miles and the road course had more elevation gain than the trail route at 4800'! My previous 50 mile PR of 6:25 would be tough to beat with extra climbing and extra mileage. I wasn't concerned about the upcoming race just 6 days after LBL. I wanted to test the limits. Through experience, I've found sometimes to expect the unexpected. I was feeling strong.

I started the first lap at a pace I felt comfortably uncomfortable with. Ha! I was running with my friend Matt Hoyes chatting and passing the time. Matt usually starts in front of me but I felt strong and steady running with him so I stayed put. Matt would push on the frequent climbs and I would catch him on the descents. With so many friends out on the course the time passed quickly cheering one another on.

Matt and I completed our second lap in 3 hours and 11 minutes which was right at marathon distance. At that point in the race we were in 1st and 2nd place. There were a lot of guys close on heels, but no one was gaining any distance that we could notice. Matt was pushing the pace hard enough that I once again thought that this might be his day. We took turns pulling the lead, and when I was in front, I made sure to push a little extra just to show that I was feeling peppy too. When he was in front, I was trying my hardest to stay on his tail. We were punishing each other pretty good and I was loving every minute of it! I knew the road course put the advantage in Matt's court as his leg speed is really strong on the road, but my endurance/stamina is good. I was hoping that one of us would pull out the win that day. We laughed at our buddy Scott Breeden flying around the 60K course at ridiculous speeds with a giant grin on his face. I was happy to see Ron Brooks pacing himself well in his first 50 mile attempt. I pegged Ron a contender for a podium spot in his first 50 if he ran smart and fueled well. He was keeping somewhat even splits with Matt and I most of the first few laps.

Halfway through the 3rd of 4 laps, Wes Trueblood came in like a hurricane upon Matt and I. He passed us on a climb and he was cramping badly. I was already giving it 100% when Matt and I were sharing the lead, but I found extra will to run with Wes and not let him get too far. I REALLY wanted the win that day. I've come in 2nd place too many times at LBL to count. Wes and wonderboy Scott Breeden train together in Indiana so I figured he might be strong on the day. When Wes passed me, he was cramping and his formed looked a little rough but man was he a FIGHTER! He put a gap on me of at least 60 seconds but I fought to not let him get too far. I honestly didn't think he could hold his pace because his limp from the cramps looked so drastic. He was running SMART though. He took some electrolytes at the next aid station and continued to pull the lead. In the process of chasing down Wes on that 3rd lap, I somehow lost sight of Matt whom I figured would be right there in the mix. My lap splits were still within minutes of the first lap so I was happy that I was holding my "suicide" pace without falter. 

I hit mile 50 and had mixed feelings. I was really happy that I met my goal of finally running 50 miles in under 6 hours and 20 minutes. I hit mile 50 in 6:18. The course was long though and so I still had two miles to go. I was chasing down Wes up front but couldn't see him. With only two miles to go I knew he'd take it and I'd be 2nd. I crossed the finish line in 2nd place in 6 hours and 32 minutes. I was happy my body felt so great and had such a strong race. I ran the fastest 50 mile split I've ever done, and it was in a downpour after having a very busy and hectic race schedule the past two years. I was disappointed that the course was long. My official time was 6:32, but the most important thing was that I felt so strong after having such a good year. 

I raced like there was no tomorrow and I didn't concern myself with the stage race taking place the following week.

Immediately upon finishing I started recovery for the stage race which was scheduled to begin on the following Friday. My mind was focused, clean, and driven. I ate as much as I could and relaxed. 

The following week I monitored every calorie that went in to my body and made sure to get in extra calories. It felt funny to carb load two weeks in a row, but on the second week I was also getting extra protein to aid in recovery for Syllamo. 

Stephanie and I left for the Syllamo Stage Race on Thursday and I was in a great frame of mind. I wasn't anxious or stressed about the race. I wasn't worried about performance. I planned on pushing myself 100% each day, and after such a successful year I wasn't concerned about results. I just wanted to run in the mountains for a few days with friends.

Typically, I would pace myself in a stage race, but I wanted to see what I was capable of. The fact that I ran a 50 mile PR effort the week before didn't deter me. Even though I was not in to top form, I wanted to challenge myself and enter into a depraved state.

The first race was on Friday. It was 50k (that's 32 miles roughly.) The course claims 10,000' of climbing which is quite an exaggeration. It's probably closer to 6000' but it's still the most technical and mountainous 50k I've run. Most of the trails were off camber and footing was tricky.

I started with fury and tried to push hard on the first climb. I ran in the lead pack the first mile or so but my legs felt heavy and tired. I pushed harder and the lead pack pulled away from me. I realized I couldn't run THEIR race and I had a long three days ahead of me. I needed to run comfortably. I found a more comfortable pace early on and found myself alone just behind the lead pack, but far ahead of the other racers. I looked around and enjoyed the beauty of the mountains. I was shocked how diverse the terrain was. The ecology resembled much larger ranges and I was in heaven just being out in the mountains on a gorgeous warm sunny day. I even had time to decide to direct a new trail race this summer at Bernheim! I made the commitment to restart the Bernheim Trail Marathon while out enjoying the trails of the Ozarks. 
Coming into the second aid station I was informed that the lead pack was only a minute or so ahead of me. This was GREAT news. I was running easy and comfortably and the fact that the lead pack was so close meant that I would soon be with them. I knew I had the capacity to really push the pace in the final half. 

A few miles before the halfway point I was running with the lead guy. I took the lead at the turnaround and started pushing immediately. 

I opened a gap and I was thrilled to be feeling so good. I wasn't in a world of pain. I was feeling good and I was running because I genuinely wanted nothing more than to be out there in the mountains running up and over ridges and hollows in the Ozarks. The course was an out and back which always makes it fun to cheer on the runners heading out the other way. I gradually saw my friends heading towards the out and back. Mark Linn, Maddy Blue, Andrew Borst, Daniel Maddox. Every looked great! 

I grabbed my iPod from Stephanie and took my time at the aid station. I was truly enjoying each mile and I felt like I wanted to push even harder. I was almost disappointed to make the final descent to the finish line since I was really enjoying the course. Usually when leading, the finish can't come soon enough! Ha! 

I crossed the line in 1st place overall in 4 hours and 33 minutes. I ran an exact even split. My split at the halfway point was 2:16. I would say it was one of my stronger 50k runs and I can't believe it happened only six days after my LBL 50 run!

I felt good afterwards and began refueling immediately for stage 2 on Saturday choking down as many carbs as possible. It was a blast hanging in the sunshine, feeling great about how the body responded, all while watching many friends come in and finish.

Saturday mornings 50 mile run started early at 6 a.m. It was dark and foggy. I felt fresh and ready to tackle the first ascent. I was pretty shocked how good I felt after the adrenaline surge from the previous day. I led the way from the start and the miles ticked away effortlessly and I wondered when someone would make a move.

We followed the flags to the first aid station which wasn't until ten miles into the race. Descending down to the road I was glad we were right on schedule coming in. When we arrived at the aid station, the workers informed us we were at the wrong aid station. "How could this be?!?!" We followed flags all the way from the start! I asked if there was any way maybe they were at the wrong spot? Confusion ensued. More runners started showing up. 

We realized we had somehow missed a turn in the opening mile of the race. We were TEN miles off course! The flags we were following made this fact even more confusing! I quickly realized my chance for winning the day was DONE. This also meant my chance for winning the stage race was done. I felt FANTASTIC physically but my chances were blown. What a bummer. I told the other runners we only had ONE option. We HAD to go back to the start and restart the course. I yelled, as cheerily and positively as I could, "OK! Who wants to get in 70 miles today! It will be fine, we'll go slower and still get in a finish!" Come on!" No one budged though except Andy. They decided to run what they felt like to get in their 50 miles for the day. They continued to follow the flags out, and then run back the same way they came out. That wasn't the race course though.

Just running 50 miles anywhere you see fit doesn't count as finishing the race. The elevation is different, the terrain is different, etc. What is the entire purpose of a race?! Unless you run the course, you deserve a DNF. Is it unfortunate? YES. It sucks! It's heartbreaking! But to run an alternate course and claim you finished is not the truth. If you take away the risk of failure, you take away the reward in accomplishing something! We aren't entitled to say we finished just because we're too weak to accept that we failed. Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. We need to accept that sometimes we try and fail. Don't be scared of that. Have faith in your ability to be truly strong. To finish a race, all runners must run the same course. Anything else is just a training run. We only had one option, and that was to try to get back to where we went off course and try to start over. Andrew Borst was in agreement with me, and of all the runners that went off course, he was the only one who tried to go back to the start line with me.

In a rather positive mood considering our bad luck we talked about running and racing on our way back to the start. While crossing a road we saw a truck with some volunteers and we chatted briefly and told them our plans. Somehow, this messed up my directional senses again and went another 6 miles off course. Unbelievable!

Syllamo Gang sans Stephanie! 

Eventually we made it back to the start and found the turn we had missed. It was marked. I just missed it in the early morning light. A lot of people wanted to debate the quality of the course markings, the lack of course markings, the lack of reflective tape and ground markings since it was a dark start. The fact is that regardless of the quality of the markings, this course has a reputation for being incredibly minimal in its markings. We all knew this going into it. We still missed a marked turn. It had taken us approximately 5 hours to get back to the starting line. By the time I got to the aid station at mile 14 to meet Stephanie I had already run 40 miles and I still had 36 to go. The aid station had been broken down and everyone and everything were gone. There was no way I could make the time cuts. I called it a day and headed back to the start line. The race director and I had previously chatted briefly and came to the conclusion that unless someone ran the course their time shouldn't count. In the end, this was overturned. People who crossed the line were allowed to keep their times and were credited with a finish. It was just an unfortunate situation. I suppose I should have just ran another 10 miles that day and crossed the line? No. I was fine with a DNF on principle.  The course was very pretty though, the camaraderie was good and the night was still very fun. Even amid all this I was in good spirits and enjoyed the bluegrass concert they had at the start finish line that night. The event really is quite fun.

Day 3 was a half marathon and I was pretty fired up from the day before. I planned on giving it everything I had. I was only strong enough to finish in 2nd place among the stage runners, 3 minutes behind a strong German, and 4th overall. (There were 2 runners who just raced the half marathon on Sunday.) I couldn't have been happier with how powerful I felt after all the racing I had done in the past week. I had a blast hanging with my friends over the weekend and enjoyed the experience overall.

Now it's rest and recovery time. A few weeks off before training starts for the Western States 100 which takes place in late June.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Louisville Lovin' the Hills 50K Race Report- Joy is the Essence of Success

Where it all started! Nine years in a row at LLTH!
Frozen dirt made a crunching sound underfoot as we stampeded and thundered through the opening miles in the Horine Reservation of Jefferson Memorial Forest. This was my ninth Louisville Lovin’ the Hills 50K. LLTH was my first ultramarathon back in 2007 and the journey ever since has been nothing short of full steam ahead, full throttle for nearly a decade.

Hahaha..Keep on reading to hear why this ridiculous pic is in this report! I should have kept this pic in the
At the start line I tried to find my buddy Matt Hoyes as I figured he’d be my most solid competition- a stellar runner who gets faster with each passing year, Matt has recently dropped his marathon PR into the sub- 2:40 field and is as likable as he is fast. During our time together on our Bourbon Chase Relay adventure this past fall he had no problem rolling out 10k splits with each mile in the upper 5 minute range. (While wearing a speedo mind you…)  

Myself in the white hat and grey l/s tee. Immediately to my left is Cory Linfield of Lakewood Colorado who finished 3rd in the 50K and then the (in)famous Ron Brooks to his left who finished 3rd in the 15mi.
Within a few minutes of the start Matt and Ron Brooks had no problem passing me with authority. Ron was running the 15 mile option and so I needn't worry about his positioning. To be honest, I was happy to be on his heels in the Horine Section as I knew it was a good sign for me to be running the 50K at my own pace and holding pace with Ron. For those of you who don’t know Ron, just jump on any social media outlet and you’ll soon see a post from Dr Brooks. Hahaha… Ron is often found running out of the surgical suite at the local hospital to sneak in some time on trails to get in a quick LT workout between scrub-ins. A surgeon and a beast of a  runner...Who has that much energy?! Notice the impressive #ultrabeard he sprouted to hang with the big-dogs. (Yet another great dude to be on the trails with, Ron is the best.)

I didn't worry about the growing gap between Ron, Matt and myself. I knew that my pace in the opening miles was blistering fast and my heart rate was near 90% of my max HR, (where it would remain all day.) My max is only 188 and I was running in the 170’s so I had no desire to go any faster.

Faith, confidence, and a lot of trail experience has taught me to run my own race. I knew that the pace I was keeping would yield the best possible race I was capable of and I could rest easy in that. ( much as one can “rest easy” while every cell in the body screams out in oxygen debt while climbing 6700’ in 32 miles on technical single track!) 

Lewis Jackson and I passed the time chatting comfortably during the first 7 miles or so, and I was elated to get a little lead on him after that point. Lewis is crazy fast and is a really strong tri-guy so once again I knew my pace was solid if I wasn't trying to push too hard and I was out in front with him.

From there on the race got a little lonely but I was stunned how quickly it was going by. That’s ALWAYS a great sign.

I was running with power and strength on the descents, bombing down the steepest of stretches, but my core kept me stable and upright. Most importantly, I was in control without risk of injury. I felt the sting of the cool air moving through my body as I climbed the single track trails towards the sky. I was wearing a short sleeve shirt to take in the rare warm day in February but the air was still frigid. The breeze fueled my soul and I enjoyed each mile. I imagined the space between the atoms that make up my body. The strong winds on the ridgelines tossed leaves by me occasionally in the gusts, and I envisioned my body one of the leaves, the wind transporting me tumbling through the air and up the climbs.

I kept seeing Matt on the ascents walking with power. I ran each climb and gained a little ground each time but I didn’t catch him until Scotts Gap near mile 20. I was glad to pass some miles with him and see how he was doing on our climb up Scotts gap. On the flat stretches he would cruise with road speed but on the climbs he would slow due to back spasms.

I emerged from Scotts Gap for the return trek on the Siltstone in first place and I felt really strong as I’d paced myself pretty well throughout the day and taken in disciplined nutrition all day. I started at a pretty ridiculous pace and kept it going through the middle of the race.

I was rested and recovered after a really low mileage January in which I let recovery take priority over training. I’d probably run fewer miles this January leading into LLTH than any other January in nearly half a decade. Its what I needed and I wasn't anxious about the lack of mileage. I had faith in my fitness.

The return trip on Siltstone is always fun as I like to cheer on runners on their way out. My return trip on Siltstone was quick to say the least. I knew I could solidify the win if I dropped the hammer because that late in the race I was moving as well as I had during the would be pretty hard for someone to pass me at that point.

My goal became internal to just enjoy each mile and look at the beauty around me, (all while pushing nearly 100%.). Very rarely am I in such a place of peace and calm mentally, while being surrounded by serenity and beauty extrinsically as well. It was a race to remember.

The return trip to the finish was also highlighted by seeing all of the runners I coach whom ran the 50K absolutely crushing their races! Everyone looked on top of their game and I was so proud of them!

The final climb around the lake within a mile of the finish I had motivation from a super-cute little 2 year old… My daughter Denali was being toted in her pack on the trail and when Denali saw me “RUNNING DADDY!” she started laughing uncontrollably like it was the greatest thing ever. Its always good to see that crazy little girl, especially during a race!

I crossed the line in 4:40 for the win and was 3 minutes off my prior best but this was a longer course than my previous personal record by over a mile, so I’d say without a doubt this was my strongest run at LLTH in 9 years.

Some “Yogi Tea” earlier in the week had a hang tag that read, “Joy is the essence of success.” I took this to mean that the highest self is achieved when joy is present. I personally run my best when I run with joy and happiness and don’t place too much thought on my running. (I place a LOT of pressure on my running...) Success requires balance. When you run without fear, when you run without anxiety, when you LIVE without fear, when you LIVE without anxiety, and THEN tackle your objectives and goals; success happens. I don’t care about my placement at a race. I am proud of the effort and that I ran my best if it happens. You never know who will show up. This is how we reach our highest potential. 

Many thanks to Cynthia, Todd, and Chase at Headfirst for providing the running community with events like this to fill our souls with camaraderie and competition for so many years here in Louisville! Check out Headfirst Performance for the next chance to share some trails with great local and not-so-local folks.

Huge congrats to the Shellhamer Ultra Endurance Coaching athletes who crushed their goals this race! Everyone ended up with big personal records and all performances were equally impressive feats which showed growth and strategic vision. Kudos. I am PROUD.

If you're looking for the best trail marathon and half the mind can conceive check out The Backside Trail Marathon . Awesome prizes, aid station food, and course. Great Volunteers too!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lookout Mountain 50 Race Report-

The road ahead was grey and it fused into blue skies. It was a cold day but beautiful for December. Interstate 65 carried us away towards Chattanooga. My mind was blank and unfettered. I felt strong and focused and most importantly I was at peace and accepted the reality I lived in. I was on my way to run 50 miles on Lookout Mountain.

For the first time in months I was free of myself and the pressure I always feed from within. I said, "What will be will be." It doesn't necessarily matter which avenue I am on, which arena I've entered, I tend to always push 100% and nothing is ever good enough. This can be detrimental as was evidenced in my recent performance at the Tunnel Hill 100 mile run last month. (TH100) I cared so much that balance in life was askew. You can't go 100% all the time. You can't micromanage every variable and expect fatigue to not set in.You have to allow time to decompress. I'm a father, I'm a husband, I'm a coach, I'm an athlete, I'm a nurse, I'm a Race Director, I'm a wannabe musician, etc. I don't want to let anyone down in the pursuits I choose to make my passions. I want to make the absolute most of my potential in the endeavors I choose to focus on. I want to be the best I can be. I'm small time in the grand scheme of things. Others are capable of much more than I, so dammit, I want to at least make the absolute most of my limited potential. Constantly seeking improvement can become overwhelming as my mind never stops.

Every day I see some incredibly strong people around me. These people inspire me. I believe each of us is born with a certain amount of potential. I don't believe we all handle stresses in life the same. I do believe we can constantly grow and improve if we are honest with ourselves about our attitudes and emotions and accept the reality around us. The races I direct are small but I care greatly about my runners enjoying themselves and having a great experience. I care deeply about the runners I coach. I get involved in their lives and try to give my all to help them in their pursuits in sharing what I've learned. I'm proud of my hard work and the coaching business I've built and the races I direct.

My points are as follows... I get wrapped up in my own world of goals and drive and motivation. Sometimes this affects my recovery. I think too much. I wanted to set a personal record at  TH100 and in turn I ran 100 mile training weeks back to back to back and ran my ass off. I ate regimented meals and tried to control every aspect of training and life, but it left me fatigued on race day. I had an OK race, but NOT great like I wanted.

This was a wake up call during Tunnel Hill as I watched my time goal slip out of reach. I needed to back off and let life come to me. I had to stop attacking my goals and let them simply happen. I had to have faith in myself. I needed to chill the hell out. People told me, "You ran a great race! You were 2nd place!" but I know this wasn't true. I have met my potential before and this was not it. I don't care about placement. Placement is for people who care what others think. I care about what I think. I'm not out to impress. I'm out to help others and learn how to advance our human performance in endurance sports. I'd rather run 5th against stiff competition than win a race against a soft field. There's no room for pride if you truly care about meeting your maximum potential! I'm secure in my life outside of running. I don't think we can truly meet our potential in running until we are secure in ourselves and where we fit into the bigger picture.

Sometimes I need a gentle reminder of the above statements, and TH100 was it. I cared too much. I could have ran ninety minutes faster. I'm honest with my performances. I pat myself on the back when I deserve it and I'm critical when I should be.

I ate like a champ the month after TH100 leading into Lookout Mountain. I didn't worry about controlling every variable. I ate about 500 more calories per day than I normally do. I gave up control. I didn't worry about gaining weight. I didn't run much either. I cut my training volume down to a third of what I usually do. This would worry some people but as mentioned, I had faith. I had to recover. I've seen too many people not allow recovery because they had no faith and it's led to DNF's or finishing at a mere fraction of their potential.

I chose sleep often over running during this month of recovery.

Race day held positive vibes. I felt like I was back in full force. Ready to meet my potential and land some strong blows to the course, as well as take some blows.

I wasn't looking forward to time off after the race. I felt strong and free.

Even with the added daily calories, I only gained about 3 pounds after Tunnel Hill, and it was all muscle mass. Body fat stayed below 5%.

At the starting line temps were chilly and it was dark. I noticed a friend, Harvey Lewis, (winner of the infamous Badwater 135,) and we exchanged greetings. I was glad to also say hi to Brian Pickett yet I was sad he wasn't running!

Harvey bolted off the starting like it was a 10k race, not a 50 mile race. I was in the mood to push myself. I came to dig deep into oblivion and felt ready to do so. On a weaker day I would have paced myself better but I felt capable of recovering from the insane early pace in the opening miles. I let Harvey gain a little ground but he came back to me soon enough.

By the time we hit the first aid station at mile 5 Harvey had slowed enough for me to pass him and I took over second/ third place with a guy from GA. I enjoyed sharing his enthusiasm for the beauty of the overlooks on the course.

I was surprised to see some unmarked junctions along the course and this lit a fire under my ass. Last year some ambiguous course marking at this race caused most of the top 10 runners to go off course several miles. Luckily I've run this race enough times to know where the 10K course veers from the 50 mi and so we followed the 50 mi markings and not the 10K course. I notified race management at the next aid station and I heard they fixed the markings promptly.

The climb back up to Covenant College was not lonely. I had good company in the form of Josh Cline. Josh is a runner from FL who was staying in Chattanooga for a while after the race to focus on rock climbing for a bit. I enjoyed his company as we chatted about some running and training philosophies as well as jobs, climbing, etc.

I saw Stephanie at Covenant College, mile 22 and had a quick exchange of food and fluid. I was feeling great and yelled, "I'm chopping cabbage!" (A reference to a rap song which was the theme of the weekend...It's about rising up after getting knocked down, self empowerment, etc. Hahaha "REBIRF MUDDUH!") to which she replied, "DON'T FORGET THE OLIVES!"

Heading out onto the power-line stretch of the course I became angered again at the lack of markings at one very important junction. This is where many runners were lost last year and so I was surprised it wasn't marked. I was in third place running with second place just ahead. Second place decided to run on ahead and I stopped. I ran back to the chase pack behind us to verify we were all accounted for and going the right way. I lost about 10 minutes in this debacle but I quickly gained ground after getting back on course with the others and sealed my third placement along the way. (On the run back I noticed flags had been put up at these junctions.)

I forced calories down regularly in the form of gels and water.

Nearing mile 45 I caught the runner in second place gent, Derek. I had been getting splits on him from runners and spectators. I had closed a 14 minute gap over the past 10 miles and caught him on a climb where his crew awaited him. He didn't realize I was right behind him and I heard him ask, "Where is third place?!" to which they replied, "Right there!" Derek's crew are all phenomenal runners in their own right.

I was pretty confident that I had just captured second placement since I closed such a large gap to him. I knew I had fueled well and I could even speed up the last five miles but upon seeing me, Derek, was off like a rocket. I made haste to chase him down and I was running well, but damn! Derek was gone!

I was happy to be chasing second as opposed to defending third. It meant I felt strong and would at least probably retain my podium spot in third.

The closing miles I didn't see Derek anymore. He had a great closing!

I crossed the line in third place which was my "A" goal for the day. I've won this race in the past and placed second and third as well. I knew I was greatly fatigued coming off of a huge year but through allowing recovery and rest I was able to finally get my legs back and have a race I was REALLY elated with!

I couldn't be happier. This was racing at my potential. I had gained some muscle and felt good the whole day.

Crossing the line in first place and absolutely crushing the course that day was Nathan Holland. Nathan was fourth last year. I passed him with about a quarter mile to go and stole third. This year was HIS. He was out front the whole day! What a deserving guy. He's very nice and clearly worked HARD over the year. He ran an incredibly impressive time.

There were a slew of young guys out there that are going to take the sport to a whole new level.

Many thanks to the organizers and volunteers that make the race possible.

So there it was...2014 all wrapped up. I stood elated on the podium!

I allowed recovery and in turn, by playing my cards right I had one last strong race of the year. I couldn't have been happier with the day and my performance.

Here is a rundown of 2014:

Jan- The Pistol 100 mi- 6th Place

February- Lovin' the Hills- 3rd Place

March- Land Between the Lakes 3rd Place

April- Blind Pig 100 Mile- 2nd Place

May- Otter Creek Night Run 35 mi- 1st Place

June- Hawthorn Half Day Run- 1st Overall- Course RECORD- 81.5 miles

August- Burning River 100 mi 1st Overall

August- Iron Mountain 50 Mi- 2nd Overall

October- Bourbon Chase Ultra Div- 1st Overall- Course Record

November Tunnel Hill 100 Mi- 2nd Overall

December Lookout Mountain 50 Mi. 3rd Overall

As for 2015...we'll see what it holds. First and foremost, I need to recover! Then it's on to the big dance at Western States 100.

There are no formulas for success. This seems like its all science but it takes an artist to interpret the subjective data from the objective. Sometimes you need to push and strain in training, and other times you need to back off. I've finished over 50 ultra distance races now and met some amazing people. This sport gets more rewarding each year and I learn more about myself with each finish line crossing.

Had to have some fun in Nashville en route! I found a keeper!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Mind Over Matter- Not exactly the case for the doggedly determined athlete. (a very basic explanation of over-training)

"The legs were there but the mind just wasn't in it."

"My lungs just weren't there today."

"I just couldn't push as hard as I wanted."

"I just wasn't tough enough."

People say this kind of stuff all the time to justify poor race performance and although I'm not trivializing the importance of attitude and mental strength in the sport, I would like to STRONGLY stress the mind and body are one in the same.

Some athletes are blessed with a dogged determination and will. They fight to the death. Performance for them is worth entering deep into the pain cave. The mind is an incredibly strong tool to overpower the body and these strong willed athletes push their bodies to forge on even when every cell screams, "Stop!"

When the body doesn't respond though they feel that they only faltered mentally, but their is indeed a physiological reason for whats happening: endocrine burnout.

Athletes with strong discipline have a tendency to push themselves hard in training. Sometimes they feel recovered physically but in reality they show up on race day fatigued. This is hormonal fatigue.

Runners get their ability to push hard from their hormones. These hormones are primarily epinephrine, nor-epinephrine, and testosterone, as well as cortisone and a myriad of others.

Read this excerpt to learn about the hormones:

The adrenal glands are two glands that sit on top of your kidneys that are made up of two distinct parts.
  • The adrenal cortex—the outer part of the gland—produces hormones that are vital to life, such as cortisol (which helps regulate metabolism and helps your body respond to stress) and aldosterone (which helps control blood pressure).
  • The adrenal medulla—the inner part of the gland—produces nonessential (that is, you don’t need them to live) hormones, such as adrenaline (which helps your body react to stress).
When you think of the adrenal glands (also known as suprarenal glands), stress might come to mind. And rightly so—the adrenal glands are arguably best known for secreting the hormone adrenaline, which rapidly prepares your body to spring into action in a stressful situation.
But the adrenal glands contribute to your health even at times when your body isn’t under extreme stress. In fact, they release hormones that are essential for you to live.
Anatomy of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are two, triangular-shaped organs that measure about 1.5 inches in height and 3 inches in length. They are located on top of each kidney. Their name directly relates to their location (ad—near or at; renes—kidneys).
Each adrenal gland is comprised of two distinct structures—the outer part of the adrenal glands is called the adrenal cortex. The inner region is known as the adrenal medulla.
Hormones of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla have very different functions. One of the main distinctions between them is that the hormones released by the adrenal cortex are necessary for life; those secreted by the adrenal medulla are not.
 Adrenal Cortex Hormones
The adrenal cortex produces two main groups of corticosteroid hormones—glucocorticoids and mineralcorticoids. The release of glucocorticoids is triggered by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Mineralcorticoids are mediated by signals triggered by the kidney.
 When the hypothalamus produces corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), it stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenal corticotrophic hormone (ACTH). These hormones, in turn, alert the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroid hormones.
Glucocorticoids released by the adrenal cortex include:
  • Hydrocortisone: Commonly known as cortisol, it regulates how the body converts fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to energy. It also helps regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular function.
  • Corticosterone: This hormone works with hydrocortisone to regulate immune response and suppress inflammatory reactions.
The principle mineralcorticoid is aldosterone, which maintains the right balance of salt and water while helping control blood pressure.
There is a third class of hormone released by the adrenal cortex, known as sex steroids or sex hormones. The adrenal cortex releases small amounts of male and female sex hormones. However, their impact is usually overshadowed by the greater amounts of hormones (such as estrogen and testosterone) released by the ovaries or testes.
Adrenal Medulla Hormones
Unlike the adrenal cortex, the adrenal medulla does not perform any vital functions. That is, you don’t need it to live. But that hardly means the adrenal medulla is useless. The hormones of the adrenal medulla are released after the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, which occurs when you’re stressed. As such, the adrenal medulla helps you deal with physical and emotional stress. You can learn more by reading a SpineUniverse article about the sympathetic nervous system.
You may be familiar with the fight-or-flight response—a process initiated by the sympathetic nervous system when your body encounters a threatening (stressful) situation. The hormones of the adrenal medulla contribute to this response.
Hormones secreted by the adrenal medulla are:
  • Epinephrine: Most people know epinephrine by its other name—adrenaline. This hormone rapidly responds to stress by increasing your heart rate and rushing blood to the muscles and brain. It also spikes your blood sugar level by helping convert glycogen to glucose in the liver. (Glycogen is the liver’s storage form of glucose.)
  • Norepinephrine: Also known as noradrenaline, this hormone works with epinephrine in responding to stress. However, it can cause vasoconstriction (the narrowing of blood vessels). This results in high blood pressure. taken from

These hormones are what make up the fight or flight response. They make your heart beat faster and allow you to release fuel like fat and glycogen into your blood stream. They give athletes the ability to dig deep and really enter the pain cave in a race. Well rested and trained athletes can push themselves at 100% when these hormones are readily available.

When athletes train too much and ignore the signs of over-reaching and / or over-training these hormones become released in smaller quantities. 

The mind can't just "force" the body to perform optimally because in essence the athlete is experiencing a shortage of necessary fuel for your race. These hormones which runners usually use while racing are not there in similar quanity because the hormone system is fatigued and won't dump out the same level of hormones as it would in a non-fatigued state and therefore the runner can't dig as deeply as normal. 

For more info I suggest researching flight or fight response and stress adaptation.

You can't push at 100% all the time. The body can't differentiate life stress and training stress. Allow balance and recovery. 

Racing too frequently is a major cause of endocrine fatigue. The body needs downtime to restore hormone levels.

Good luck in your training!